Having accepted the call to become a disciple and to help others become disciples, we now begin to understand what we don’t know. Or rather we embrace what we have to learn. Sometimes we get the impression that the end of faith is that initial yes to Jesus. As important as that confession is, it is only the beginning of the path to becoming a disciple. Paul, in the twelfth chapter of his wonderful letter to the Romans, invites us to embrace transformation so that we can know the will of God for our lives and for the world. He tells us that this takes place, at least in part, through the “renewing of your minds.” (Romans 12:2 NRSV)
So, let us consider together what it means to be a disciple. Let’s embrace the truth, even when it is difficult and takes effort, even when we learn of the commitment that is involved in following Jesus. Because we also discover the joy in serving and loving and working for justice. It may be hard, and we may mess up at times, or lose focus, but we’re learning and we’re growing. Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ isn’t an instantaneous event, but a lifelong process. Wesley called it sanctification, this process of becoming more like Christ, and acknowledged that it is a journey. But we’re on the way, or as Wesley claimed, moving on to perfection in love. There’s a lot to learn as we grow.
“What you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops” (Matthew 10:27). This week, we’ve got whispers and we’ve got shouts. That seems like a common human experience, doesn’t it? Some things we are willing to shout; other things we prefer to whisper. Except, pay attention here: we aren’t whispering; we are the shouters. God whispers; we shout. God speaks in the dark; we tell in the light. How does that work, exactly? Whispers in the dark sound a lot like uncertainty—like maybe we heard, but we aren’t sure. So, are we supposed to shout our uncertainty?
Worship is, in part, learning to listen to God. How do we create space for hearing that voice, for leaning into that presence? What are we doing when we gather to tune our hearts to the quiet spaces within as well as the proclaimed spaces without? Pay attention to silence. It is something that is rare in our world these days. Sure, minds wander, but a little guidance can help worshipers find their way through the silence as they listen to the still small voice of God.
But then proclaim. Our question here is, “Who proclaims during worship?” The preacher, certainly; the worship leaders or liturgists, scripture readers, musicians. But who else? How are you training and helping to grow those who live in the world and are invited to offer their witness or testimony? What examples do you give? What space do you provide to help everyone learn how and what and when to shout from the rooftops?
Part of the whispering and proclaiming in worship has to do with confession. Hagar’s story calls for the church to confess sins both individually and corporately. The nudge of the Spirit to rid oneself of sin needs an outlet, an opportunity to proclaim, confess, and receive forgiveness. This isn’t, most likely, a public airing of personal sinfulness. But there are opportunities through corporate prayers of confession to admit our failings and to ask for redemption and to invite the church to stand on the side of justice and of mercy in a broken world.
Among the silence and the speaking, the confession and the forgiveness, there is also grace and there is praise. We celebrate the God with us, who speaks to us, if only in whispers. We give thanks that we are not alone as we proclaim with grace and hospitality that the kin-dom of God is near, indeed is among us in whispers.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.